Become an IEP Special Education Advocate
I never intended to become a Special Education Advocate. I took some IEP training because my disabled son was a toddler and I thought that the information would be good to have. Then, the 2008 recession hit, and I found myself unemployed.
For me, it definitely was one of those “closed a door but opened a window” moments. I was able to do my training, volunteer, then work part-time (and won Advocate of the Year for my county!) and go out on my own. Becoming a Special Education Advocate is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Ok, you’ve dealt with numerous issues with your own child. You’ve learned quite a bit about the IEP process. Now you’re thinking that maybe you’d like to help other parents. Sound familiar?
How Do You Become a Special Education Advocate
- Special Education Advocate Training: This one is by far the easiest. You will often hear that many Advocates are “self-taught” but that doesn’t mean that we don’t go to training. The good ones go to lots of training. You do not need to be certified or licensed to be a Special Education Advocate. In fact, as of 2021, there is no national certifying body that is nationally recognized.
- Experience. Great, you’ve got some knowledge! But most of my knowledge came from hands-on experience. Again, you can network with others to see if there are agencies near you that need volunteers. Or, you can become an IDEA Educational Surrogate. Start with assisting friends and family. Then volunteer, and build from there.
- A Business Model. After you become a child advocate for special education, then what? Do you want to be in business for yourself? Or an agency to hire you? What will you charge clients? How will you bill them? If you plan on being in business for yourself, you need a business plan. And the time and knowledge to start a business. (as an aside, I offer all of this and more in my online training)
- Enjoy Writing: If you’ve spent any time with an advocate, you’ve likely heard them say that “it’s all about the paper trail.”Many of my clients struggle in this area, so I have to help them prepare their correspondence. That takes skill and practice.
- Internet Skills. Every child is different. “I” in IEP, right? For a long time, it felt like I was never encountering the same situation twice. A good training program (see Number 1 above) doesn’t give you all the information you need. A great IEP advocate knows how and where to find information. Some of the information that Special Education Advocates use can be pretty obscure and hard to find. It also can be tiring to always be on the learning curve.
- People Skills. This is a people job, and a job of conflict resolution. I see myself as having two goals-get the child’s needs met, and repair the parents’ relationship with the school (because they live in the community and will be attending the schools for a long time). That’s not always easy. Learning the laws and regs–easy. People, whew!
- Patience and the Ability to Not get Jaded. There are a lot of egos in this field. People do not like to be told that what they are doing is incorrect. It takes patience. You have to be able to strategize and develop a long-term strategy for your client. Once you become a Parent Advocate for Special Education, parents only call you when there’s a problem. They don’t call you to tell you that their child just attained an amazing goal. So we only get to hear the worst. I am constantly singing Luke Bryan’s “Most people are good” because, in this field, we don’t always see a lot of good.
Special Education Advocate Certificate Programs
At this time, there is no “one” program that is the gold standard. There is no licensing. There are a few programs out there, but I always use the analogy of a lifeguard.
There are many lifeguard certification programs out there–YMCA, American Red Cross, BSA, Ellis, and more. Each organization likely claims that theirs is the “best.” But they may not be correct in that assumption.
There are a few different groups out there offering certificates to become a Special Education Advocate. Certificate, not certification. The industry, at this time, does not demand certification.
Training for Special Education Advocates
- I offer a very affordable Online IEP Coaching Program.
- On Facebook or email, follow your favorite non-profits and agencies, as they often have free webinars.
Special Education Advocate Jobs
What everyone wants to know–how much can I make as a Special Education Advocate? Well, when I worked for a non-profit agency, I started at $15 an hour and when I left that agency, had gone up to $20 an hour. In 2021, I have a friend who was hired to be a Parent Mentor in her school district and the pay was around $22 an hour.
I have also heard of IEP Advocates who charge $150-$200 or have retainers of anywhere from $5000-$20,000 per year. And for that fee, they are at your beck and call for any issues that you have. You should have an entrepreneurial spirit if you want to do this on your own.
It is my plan to launch online advocacy services in late 2021 or early 2022 and I will be hiring advocates from my own training program.
This is why I said earlier that a good business plan is essential.
My business model is different than most Special Education Advocates. I sell “packages.” A basic package includes two letters ghost-written for you (one before the meeting, one after) attending the meeting, 3 conferences with family, all for a set fee.
I have a child with complex medical needs, and pretty much everything except the IEP meeting can be done from my home.
Many people want to start a business with no money. If I’m being realistic, no, you cannot start your own advocacy business with zero money. But, the start up costs are minimal. Since you can work from home, that eliminates much of your overhead right away.
Becoming a Special Education Advocate
If I wanted to, I could probably continue this list for days. I think it’s a great idea to have a mentor, but not all geographic areas have special education advocates.
I think that you need a support network, and joining Don’t IEP Alone Academy is a great start. We have workshops, private chat forums to discuss advocate issues and more.
Good luck and you can always contact us at IEP at ADayInOurShoes dot com if you have questions about my training program.